Cooke Aquaculture settles lawsuit related to Washington net-pen collapse

Published on
December 2, 2019

Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture has agreed to pay USD 2.75 million (EUR 2.48 million) to settle a lawsuit related to the collapse of one of its net-pen structures at a fish farming site near Cypress Island, Washington, U.S.A.

The settlement puts to rest a suit filed by the environmental nonprofit Wild Fish Conservatory in 2017 over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

Wild Fish Conservatory filed the lawsuit about a week after the collapse at the site, which resulted in the escape of some 250,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.

The lawsuit claimed that Cooke was in violation of the “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued at [its] Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound.” Of the total settlement, USD 1.6 million (EUR 1.44 million) will be used to pay Wild Fish Conservatory’s legal fees, while the remainder of the settlement will go to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that will carry our projects to improve water quality and aquatic habitat in Puget Sound, according to the Seattle Times.

Last week, a district judge ruled that Cooke had not inspected the integrity of the net-pens at some of its sites, failed to complete required inspection forms, and did not adequately track fish or report fish escapes as recently as last year. The company said it was in the process of upgrading the site when the collapse occurred.

“Three years ago, when Cooke acquired the existing 30-year-old net-pen facilities from a previous owner, we planned to add significant investments on top of the USD 75 million [EUR 67.7 million] contribution we made to Washington’s economy when we purchased the company,” Cooke Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson said. “In fact, our permits to replace the Cypress salmon cages were sitting with regulators at the time of the unfortunate incident.”

The settlement now needs to be reviewed by federal officials and signed by a judge.

Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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